I leave the choir rehearsal in the Prospect Hill Seniors Centre and the sky has cleared. We are high up and there is a view; white scuddering clouds under a huge blue sky. There is the drone of the late afternoon traffic heading north-west along Prospect Expressway. Brooklyn and Manhattan stretch out beyond and below and towering above it all the Statue of Liberty this massive monument to the American dream. Many of the forbears of the group I have just been singing with in the church hall may have got first sight as their ships entered the narrows: gateway to ‘the melting pot that didn’t melt’ as Tony Kushner says in Angels in America. Weeks ago I left Joanna Harris the septuagenarian dance teacher, historian, critic, and lecturer in Berkeley, California, on the other side of the continent with her many thoughts about why ‘community work’ often struggles in the states: “too much of the ‘private’ self: too much professional therapy”.
Perhaps one of the ways that the private self is cracked open is through gossip. I had arrived at the session late having totally miscalculated my time the subway ride. Had expected the session to be in full swing. But everyone was sitting around chatting:
“Seven months pregnant and she didn’t know anything about it and she’d only been to the doctor a month before.”
But of course the session was well underway: this natural energy, this mix of curiosity and urgent stories is channeled into breathing exercises and then vocal scales and finally the songs. The art isn’t separate from everything that the group have arrived from or been pre-occupied with. Here it is a natural part, a natural extension of people’s lives.